Who Passed This Way
For thousands of years, people have crossed the Sierra Nevada near this place called Donner Pass.
Traveling by foot, wagon, train or automobile, the journey has always been challenging.
Long before it's "discovery" by Euro-Americans, this 7,000 foot pass was used as a travel corridor by Native Americans.
The Washoe Indians trekked through the area, from their Great Basin home enroute to the foothills of California, to gather acorns and to trade. They brought items such as salt, obsidian, rabbit skins and pine nuts to trade with the California Indians for other food items, animal skins and sea shells.
In 1844, Elisha Stephens led the first wagon party across this rocky pass, blazing the emigrant trail. The western migration era had arrived! Nearly 300,000 people crossed the Sierra Nevada during this covered wagon movement, including the ill-fated Donner Party in 1846-47.
Incorporating portions of the emigrant trail, the Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Wagon Road was completed in 1864, opening the area to permanent settlement.
From 1866 to 1868, thousands of laborers, including Chinese, drilled and blasted through these granite cliffs, making way for the first transcontinental railroad - The Central Pacific Railroad. From this point, you can see the results of that massive effort.
Because of this railroad link, traveling across the nation now seemed quick and easy. This lured more than emigrants out west and marked the beginnings of this area's tourist economy.
By 1909, motorists were ascending Donner Pass via a primitive unpaved road. In 1913, this Sierra route was incorporated into the Lincoln Highway - the first driving route linking the east and west coasts.
This section of the Lincoln Highway was replaced by Highway 40 in 1926. Highway 40 served as the major driving route over Donner Pass until Interstate 80 was completed in 1964